A video recording of a sermon and reaffirmation of God’s covenant preached online by Dan in January 2021.
Week 4 in our journey through Advent reflecting on a year of interruption.
Where have you found love this year?Comment below with your thoughts….
How are you sharing love today?
2020 has been a different year to how any of us had imagined it would be back in January. And Christmas 2020 is no different – Christmas is going to be different this year.
The story is told of a Dad who called a family conference. He’d decided their Christmas was going to be different. They had been getting carried away with frivolous festivities. And so he told them, they were to be more disciplined.
Cutting down on excessive spending on gifts. they were going make sure there was a better atmosphere between visiting relatives. His speech came to a crescendo with a final rallying cry – let’s make this the best Christmas ever!
After a few moments of quiet, the youngest son nervously spoke up – “but Dad, I don’t see how we can ever improve on the first Christmas”
I think many of us are aware how we can sometimes get caught up in what we could call the culture of Christmas – the commercial call to buy as many presents as we can, to stock the kitchen to the hilt, to spend time with family and friends, eating together, playing games together…
Familiarity can sometimes breed complacency. And this year I wonder whether the fact we are having to think more carefully about how we spend Christmas might cut into the familiarity, and make us think more carefully about what Christmas is really about.
Because let’s face it, pandemic aside, we shouldn’t need an excuse to spend time with family and friends, to give gifts to one another to show our love and care for them. This should be a normal part of life as human beings, created to be in relationship with one another.
Christmas is about something more important.
Something no matter of family conference can improve on.
Something no restrictions can take away.
Christmas is not, cannot be, cancelled.
At Christmas we celebrate the world being interrupted by a gift of love. Because God shows his love for us through the life of Jesus, who as Christians we believe demonstrates true love to us, welcoming the outcast, caring for the stranger, loving us for who we are.
Advent is a time of watching and waiting – leading us to Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. But Advent is also a time of realising what we are watching and wating for is already with us. Jesus is already here. And is a gift of limitless love for us.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I get a gift at Christmas, or get a Christmas card in the post, I feel a bit bad if I’ve not sent them a gift or card. I want to reciprocate – to give back – and I feel it’s not fair.
Well God’s gift of Jesus isn’t fair either – because God gives and gives, and doesn’t expect anything from us, just to receive. We call it grace. God giving when we don’t think we deserve it, and expecting nothing of us except to receive it.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.Ephesians 2:8
In this year of interruption,
This Christmas interrupted,
May your life be interrupted… by God’s gift of love.
In this advent season,
waiting & watching,
Known & unknown,
Certainty & uncertainty,
Hopeful & hopeless,
Stability & instability,
in the now & yet to be,
We pray for peace & love,
Grace & wisdom,
Justice & hope,
For all those who make decisions now, which impact what will be.
Originally written on 12th December 2018, in light of the Brexit ‘meaningful vote’
I took a tumble this week. Walking home from school with my daughters I caught my foot in a ditch in the grass and twisted my ankle – resulting a sprain and chipped shard of bone.
Given so much of ministry is based at home at the moment it’s perhaps not been such a major issue, I can continue to work from office with my foot elevated, ice pack and painkillers. 12 months ago I’d have had a whole host of diary engagements to have to rearrange.
Things in life don’t always go to plan.
Things are not always perfect or ideal.
Life isn’t always without its pain and suffering and struggle.
As we’ve journeyed through the book of Colossians and dipped our toes into some of its riches, we’ve seen these last few weeks the fullness and joy and abundance that a life in Christ offers now, today, in the present.
Jesus, the gift we receive without catch or terms and conditions.
Jesus is hope for today.
But yet, the letter recognises that even while Jesus is with us, giving joy and fulness and abundance in our lives today, life is still life, and things don’t always go to plan.
As we receive the gift of Jesus today, we not only have fullness and hope for today, there is a greater hope, a greater inheritance to come.
Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters,since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.Col 3:23-24
On receiving Jesus, not only are we offered fullness and hope and abundance of love and grace for today, there is an inheritance, a hope to come, where things do go to plan, where the abundance of God’s love and grace is made more fully known.
A transformation to come that we cannot fully comprehend, that will be even better, brighter, lighter. Receive Jesus today, hope for today, and a hope to come.
Before going to theological college, I spent 6 years managing a Christian bookshop. It had been something of a dream of mine for all my teenage life. I had a passion for business, for resourcing God’s people in mission and ministry, and reaching out beyond the margins of church.
The place often felt like a signpost, as well as selling goods we saw a growing ministry of pastoral care – welcoming all sorts of people from many different backgrounds with many different stories to tell. We would point people to support, spiritual, physical, economic, we would offer conversation about life and faith, sometimes we would pray with people, and one of the joys of this ministry was that through it God was at work and we saw a number people begin following Jesus.
It was through this pastoral ministry that God began to reveal to me a calling to a vocation as a Methodist minister. But one of the things that surprised me most when running the bookshop was not these opportunities for mission, ministry and pastoral care with those on the margins, but the conversations I had with ‘already Christians’.
Running the bookshop meant I was serving a wide and diverse range of Christian people, fellowships and churches. And I saw that as a great thing, an opportunity to learn from others, discover more about God’s church and celebrate our common faith.
What surprised me, as just how un-loving God’s church can be from within. I was amazed the first time I was criticised for stocking anything but the King James Bible – on one occasion I was told I was the antichrist for stocking a particular book (I can’t remember what the book was now! – just the accusation!).
I don’t think it’s wrong to have conviction in faith, but I do think we need to as God’s Spirit to watch over us that we don’t get to a point where we are so convicted of our faith that we show no openness to the diversity of faith present in God’s people.
In Colossians 3 we read the following verses, which come from a larger section where Paul is seeking to enable understanding of what living together as Christian community looks like.
8 But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!Colossians 3:8-11
As the letter to the Colossians unfolds, the message of the gospel – the Good News -Jesus Christ – is being unpacked and given clarity. Christ is all and in all. Human labels that divide are superfluous to the power and grace of God.
One of the things that often saddens me is that Church, and society, spend so much time and energy highlighting our differences, and allowing that to lead to division and jealousy.
If we are kingdom people, worshipping Christ who’s kingdom we are welcomed into through God’s love and grace – surely it is our common faith in Christ who is all and in all that we should hold our main focus on.
John Wesley, who’s ministry contributed to the birthing of Methodism, was himself well aware of the way opinions led to division, and in one of his sermons argued that differing opinions need to be held in perspective with common faith, and that differing opinions should not lead to the cessation of fellowship.[i]
Friends there is much that has potential to divides us. Views on political and public health measures during the pandemic; contradictory convictions around communion, sexuality, gender & marriage; Brexit; immigration. The list could be endless, and these things are not things we should entirely ignore. But I think should be approached with the a recognition from all that by the love and grace of God human made division is wiped away – Christ is all and in all.
For me, these verses challenge me to hold our common faith in the un-boundaried love and grace of God at the centre of my relationships. Not focused on difference and division, but on the kingdom of God where Christ is all and in all.
[i] Sermon 19: Salt and Light, John Wesley’s 44 Sermons. Epworth Press, 1944
Downloadable PDF Version
In this week’s reflections (available in audio and text), I look at how Acts 15 might help us overcome some of the barriers physical distancing is forcing us to face.
Barriers can stop us from getting from one place to another.
Some barriers keep us safe.
Some barriers get in our way.
Barriers can separate.
Barriers can block and divide.
Some of us will have begun to get used to barriers at supermarkets, guiding us in or around the store, with markings on the floor to constantly remind us to keep 2m apart. Barriers to keep us safe that also keep us physically apart.
In 2020 we’re dealing with barriers in way’s many of us have never seen before. Due to coronavirus we’re blocked from being able to physically gather together. Christians can’t go to worship or prayer in church buildings, we can’t meet for coffee or children’s, youth and families ministry. Communities can’t gather for coffee mornings. We are physically distanced from one another.
But we are not socially distant. Over the last few weeks I’ve said many a time in conversations that I don’t find the term social distancing helpful, that I think it would be more helpful to have called it physical distancing.
Why? Because even while 2m or more apart, I think we can still be social. We may be physically distanced, but that doesn’t stop us being the social beings we are, made in the image of God to live in relationship. While not the same as physical meeting, the barriers of physical distancing can to some extent be overcome.
We can still have a conversation with the stranger who is walking on the other side of the road. We can still thank our posties and delivery drivers. From this week can sit in our gardens or in the park with a friend (still 2m apart of course).
In every phone call, every physically distanced catch up, every WhatsApp message, every video call, we have been gathering. Sharing fellowship. Seeking to encourage one another and build each other up.
I’ve been so deeply encouraged by just how ready so many in the churches I have been called to serve have been to phone, write, email, text and more to continue in fellowship together, encouraging and building each other up. And beyond that, reaching out to neighbours and friends, offering to pray for them, encouraging them, caring from them. This is mission, this is outreach, this is overcoming the barriers of coronavirus and building relationships.
For the moment we no longer have doors to open, so we are forced to use all that we have left, and we open lives, arms (metaphorically!) and hearts to others. And I wonder if in doing so we discover that it is in open hearted relationships in the streets in which we live, that we see the missio dei – mission of God – at work.
In Acts 15, at the council at Jerusalem Peter has his own barriers to deal with. Gentile believers were being told that unless they were circumcised there were not saved (15:1). The insider-outside separation that 21st Century human society seems so addicted to creating is no new phenomenon. Gentiles were not Jews, Gentiles were not circumcised. Gentiles were not the same as ‘us’ – so how can they be saved?
What does Peter say?
‘My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. 8 And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; 9 and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. 10 Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.’Acts 15:7b-11, NRSV
Cast our minds back to Acts 10, and we remember that Peter has already had is time to learn that God is bigger than the barriers of human society:
‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’Acts 10:15b, NRSV
Peter had already been learning that God does not look for our outward actions, but at our heart. And that brings us in equality with our fellow human beings, not barriers between us.
“we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”Acts 15:11
So what may God be saying to us today through Acts 15? That’s for each of us to ponder for ourselves. For me, I think God is reminding me that I’m saved not by my actions but by God’s grace.
That I can let go of some of what I thought was most important. That for a time at least, my calling to this vocation will look very different. And while that feels to me very different, unfamiliar and uncertain, it’s going to be ok. God knows my heart finds the barriers of physical distancing tough. God knows that some days are harder than others. And despite it all, God’s grace is always overflowing, and God’s love always unconditional, he knows my heart. With God, barriers are overcome.
God knows your heart too. However you feel today, wherever you read this, whoever you are. God knows how you feel, your struggles, your anxieties, your joys. And God is seeing you right now, with a heart that is overflowing with love and grace for you.
With God, barriers are overcome.
Join the conversation
if you’ve got thoughts or something to share you can comment below and share them with us all – I’d love to hear from you.
Adapted from a sermon preached at Covenant Services in January 2020 at Westergate, Bognor Regis and Felpham Methodist Church, West Sussex.
During the 2020 Christmas break we took our first ever family trip to the cinema to see Frozen 2. If you want to watch a movie that includes songs that will undoubtedly get stuck in your brain forever… that’s the film to go and see…
We sat in the cinema, waiting for 12:30 to arrive… and when it did, the sound came on…be we had no picture. At first we thought the film must be starting off with some radio adverts, but after a while of listening and hearing some adverts that made no sense without pictures, and I was convinced I’d seen on the telly in recent days we began to think something might not be quite right.Continue reading COVENANT: Living without the full picture